JIGSY listened attentively to sister Philomena. Sister was preparing them for their first communion and teaching them what to do upon entering the chapel.
“Now, listen children,” sister waved her hands in the air to get their attention. “What is the first thing you do before entering the chapel?”
“Dip you finger in the Holy Water font and make the Sign of the Cross!” the children answered in chorus.
“Good!” sister Philomena was pleased to see that they remembered what she taught. “Now, remember, don’t make the Sign of the Cross hurriedly, okay?”
“Yes, sister Philomena,” they all replied.
“Sister?” Edmund raised his hand.
“What about Jigsy?”
“What about him, Edmund?”
“Who’s going to cross him?”
“Would you like to do the honors of crossing him?” sister Philomena smiled at Edmund.
“Of course!” was Edmund’s delighted reply. He turned around and winked at Jigsy who was his best friend.
“Any more questions, class?” sister asked.
“Yes,” Kathy asked with a concerned face. “I’m wondering how Jigsy does the Sign of the Cross when no one crosses it for him?”
“Jigsy?” sister looked at the boy who was born without both arms. “Why don’t you tell what Father Elliot taught you the other day?”
“Yes, sister Philomena,” Jigsy said as he stood up. All eyes were turned towards him.
He walked confidently in front of the class. Once in front, he calmly faced his classmates. Then, he took a long deep breath and began explaining.
“Father, Elliot taught me to make the Sign of the Cross this way: ‘God the Father is in Heaven, and so when I say IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, I raise my head and look up to Heaven. Then when I say AND OF THE SON, I look at the ground, because Jesus was born on earth, and OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, I then take a deep breath because the Spirit is like the air that gives us life.”
The entire class became quiet for a few seconds, and Edmund stood up and started applauding his friend. Then everyone, including sister Philomena applauded Jigsy’s unique Sign of the Cross.
* * *
How many lessons we can learn from Jigsy’s childlike faith? The sign of the Cross is not simply a gesture to mark ourselves with hastily as we begin our meals, take an exam or enter the playing field. It is much more than this. It is a sign that reminds us of what we ought to be as our Lord taught: “If anyone wishes to follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, daily.” Through it, we brand every fiber of our existence with the presence of Christ: with His life, passion, death and resurrection.
Benedict XVI says that the “most basic Christian gesture in prayer is and always will be the sign of the Cross. (…) The sign of the Cross is a confession of faith: I believe in him who suffered for me and rose again; in him who has transformed the sign of shame into a sign of hope and of the love of God that is present with us. (…) By signing ourselves with the Cross, we place ourselves under the protection of the Cross, hold it in front of us like a shield that will guard us in all the distress of daily life and give us the courage to go on. We accept it as a signpost that we follow: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mk 8:34). The Cross shows us the road of life—the imitation of Christ.” (In The Spirit of the Liturgy, April 2006, Ignatius Press)
In our present world heavily dependent on signs and symbols, it is unfortunate that we Christians sometimes lose sight of the significance of this simple yet marvelous sign of our belonging to God. May we treasure it, and realize that this gesture is already both a prayer said and a sacrifice offered to God, and our readiness –as God’s soldiers– to love and serve our neighbor.